Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock is one of England's most enduring contemporary singer/songwriters and live performers. A surrealist poet, talented guitarist, cult artist and musician's musician, Hitchcock is among alternative rock's father figures and is the closest thing the genre has to a Bob Dylan (not coincidentally his biggest musical inspiration). Since founding the art-rock band The Soft Boys in 1976, Robyn has recorded more than 20 albums as well as starred in ‘Storefront Hitchcock’ an in concert film recorded in New York and directed by Jonathan Demme. Blending folk and psychedelia with a wry British nihilism, Robyn describes his songs as ‘paintings you can listen to’. His most recent album THE MAN UPSTAIRS is a bittersweet love letter to a vanishing world. Produced by legendary folk-rock svengali Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, Nick Drake) the album was critically acclaimed by MOJO, UNCUT and THE QUIETUS.
Pere Ubu – Pere Ubu's new album 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo opens the doors of the avant-garage to reveal the hardworking mechanics hammering away at the fundamentals of blue-collar rock. A three-guitar revision spans the state of the art for guitar-based rock in the year 2017. Keith Moliné is joined by Cleveland guitar legend Gary Siperko and Kristof Hahn in the now familiar orchestra of analog and digital synths, clarinet, drums and Thomas' unquestionably unique vocals. It follows on from their release in 2015 of Carnival Of Souls, which was widely praised by the media, confounding the usual clash of critics' sensibilities, and chosen by cult series 'American Horror Story' to provide two soundtracks for characters Mordrake and Twisty, in Season 4. David Thomas says 'To my way of thinking, the new album is The James Gang teaming up with Tangerine Dream. Or something like that. The Chinese Whispers methodology we worked on the last two albums, now that everyone has gotten comfortable with it, has been replaced by the Dark Room. Put a bunch of musicians in a lightless room and by feeling one small section of an unknown object have them figure what it must be.’ It would be easy to suppose that the album is about being in a Missile Silo... in Montana... for 20 years or so, but this is Pere Ubu and they're not about to make things easy. Thomas confirms, "I wanted to call it 'Bruce Springsteen is an Asshole,' then changed that to 'Robert DeNiro Is An Asshole,' then decided maybe that wasn't a good idea either. It's not my job to explain.' The album was recorded and mixed at Suma, Painesville Ohio. Engineer Paul Hamann, and his father before him, have been part of almost every Pere Ubu album since 1976. Thomas and Hamann have explored innumerable production methods over the years, establishing the unique Ubu sound that pre-dated punk and still stands proud of the forced genre defined clichés of the music world. Over the years, Kristof Hahn had become a regular visitor to the Ubu dressing room during his time-off touring with The Swans. He was given access to the songs from the new album as works-in-progress. "I was just listening to 'The Healer' again today and it gave me goosebumps," he wrote to Thomas. "The whole album sounds amazing already, I would be really proud to be part of it, however small my part might be." He was brought on board immediately.
Joan Shelley – The stunning, self-titled fourth album from the Kentucky singer, songwriter, and guitarist Joan Shelley began, surprisingly, with a fiddle. In the summer of 2014, Shelley fell for “Hog of the Forsaken,” a bowed rollick at the end of Michael Hurley’s wayward folk circus, Long Journey, then nearly forty years old. Hurley’s voice, it seemed to Shelley, clung to the fiddle’s melody, dipping where it dipped and climbing where it climbed. This was a small, significant revelation, prompting the guitarist to trade temporarily six strings for four and, as she puts it, “try to play like Michael.” That is, she wanted to sing what she played, to play what she sang. She tried it, for a spell, with the fiddle. “Turns out, I wasn’t very good at fiddle,” remembers Shelley, chuckling. “But I took that idea back to the guitar and tried that same method. I did it as a game to make these songs, a way to find another access point.” But that wasn’t the end of the trials. After collaborating and touring with ace guitarist Nathan Salsburg for so many years, Shelley decided to put her entire guitar approach to the test, too. Each day, she would twist and turn into a different tuning, letting her fingers fumble along the strings until the start of a tune began to emerge. After playing the songs of her phenomenal third album, the acclaimed Over and Even, so many nights during so many shows, the trick pushed her hands out of her habits and into a short, productive span that yielded most of Joan Shelley. It’s fitting that the set is self-titled. These are, after all, Shelley’s most assured and complete thoughts to date, with lyrics as subtle and sensitive as her peerless voice and a band that offers support through restraint and nuance. In eleven songs, this is the sound of Joan Shelley emerging as one of music’s most expressive emotional syndicates. To get there, Shelley had a little more help than usual. In December 2016, she headed a few hours north to Chicago, where she and Salsburg joined Jeff Tweedy in Wilco’s Loft studio for five days. Spencer Tweedy, home from college, joined on drums, while James Elkington (a collaborator to both Tweedy and Salsburg) shifted between piano and resonator guitar. Jeff added electric accents and some bass, but mostly, he helped the band stay out of its own way. “He was protecting the songs. He was stopping us before we went too far.” she says. The Loft proved essential for that approach, as it was wired to capture every musical moment, so no take was lost. If, for instance, some magic happened while Spencer Tweedy added drums to a tune he’d never heard, or while Elkington tinkered behind a piano, the tape was rolling. Indeed, half of these songs are first takes. “The first time is always the best. That’s when everyone’s on the edge of their seats, listening to not mess it up,” Shelley says. “They’re depending on each other to get through it.” Shelley’s music has never been experimental, at least in some bleeding- edge sense of the word. And she’s comfortable with that, proud of the fact that her simple songs are attempts to express complex emotion and address difficult question about life, love, lust, and existence itself. During “The Push and Pull,” for instance, she precisely captures the emotional tug of war as two people struggle to codify a relationship, her voice perking up and slinking down to illustrate the idea. For “Go Wild,” she wrestles with principles of independence and dependence, forgiveness and freedom, her tone luxuriating inside the waltz as though this were a permanent state of being. These are classic ideas, rendered brilliantly anew. But in their own personal way, these songs are experimental and risky, built with methods that pushed Shelley out of the comfort zone she’s established on a string of records defined by a mesmerizing sort of grace and clarity. The shifts are not so much major as they are marked, suggestive of the same steady curiosity and rumination that you find in the pastoral pining of “If the Storms Never Came” or the subtle romance of “Even Though.” From genesis through gestation and on to execution, then, these songs document transitions to destinations unknown. “I don’t have a concept, and I don’t know the meaning until much later. Whatever I am soaking up or absorbing from the world, there will be songs that reflect all those thoughts,” Shelley says. “I keep my songwriting alive and sustainable by trying to be honest about how it came out—these are all its jagged edges, and that’s what it is to be human.”
Susan Werner – Dubbed by NPR as the “Empress of the Unexpected,” singer/songwriter Susan Werner confirms her reputation as an artist changeable as the weather with her newest recording Hayseed. Paying tribute to American agriculture and to her Iowa farm roots, Werner again keeps her audiences guessing and laughing simultaneously, lending her wry humor and passionate voice to subjects such as farmer’s markets, agrochemicals, climate change, drought, longing for a sense of place, and the movement towards sustainable agriculture. The characters and perspectives are varied and colorful, the lyrics are sharp as thistles, the music is handmade and hoppin’, and with ‘Hayseed,’ Werner continues her reign as one of the most bold and creative forces on the acoustic music scene today.
The Chandler Travis Philharmonic – Chandler Travis has had a long and checkered career in the world of show biz, beginning in the seventies when he and Steve Shook joined up as Travis Shook and the Club Wow. Besides achieving much popularity on the east coast, the duo brought their peculiar blend of comedy and music all over the U.S. and to the nationwide television audience on such programs as the Tonight Show, the Midnight Special, and Dick Cavett. Along the way, they released an album and appeared on stage with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Bruce Springsteen to especially good pals NRBQ and George Carlin (with whom they toured for many years) to Elvis Costello to– well, you get the idea. In 1980, Travis was a founding member of the Incredible Casuals, who released four albums (not counting 2007’s “Best Of” collection, “World Championship Songs”), toured consistently all over the world, and are still at it, much to the delight of a small but rabid international following. In 1988, Chandler began moonlighting as a solo performer, presenting the unlikely mixture of oddball humor and incisive songwriting that continue to be his trademark and appearing with such diverse acts as 10,000 Maniacs, Mose Allison, Roger McGuinn, and (deja vu perhaps?) George Carlin. Upon the arrival of the critically lauded “writer-songsinger” CD, the solo career kicked into high gear with two successful west coast tours and a European jaunt in 1993; “Ivan in Paris” followed in 1998, as did “After She Left” in 2009. Late in 1996 (much to his own surprise and delight), Travis found himself fronting a nine-piece band, the modestly monikered Chandler Travis Philharmonic -probably the world’s only alternative dixieland / omnipop band. Between three and eighteen CDs followed (depending on whether you count the CTP’s fifteen contributions in 2000 to the improbable and ground-breaking RadioBall series), plus years of extensive touring. The CTP’s latest effort, “The Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows”, arrived in 2010. Next up was the formation of two interesting new bands, the Catbirds and the Chandler Travis Three-O, both of whom issued widely divergent debut CDs (very loud and electric, and very soft and acoustic, respectively) in 2013. The crowd went wild! Most recently, in an attempt to not only sum up the story so far with some of the best tracks from the last three decades, but to advance it with 8 new ones; Chandler released “Bocce & Bourbon: the Comfortable Songs of Chandler Travis & David Greenberger”, which includes work from all his current projects, all in the service of work by his longtime favorite lyricist, David Greenberger, thus setting the world aflame yet again (goes without saying doesn’t it? Or, at least might have…).